Songwriting and originality: English folk-rock sensation Jake Bugg tells it like it is

Jake Bugg plays to a legion of fans at The Bee, Publika last month during his maiden appearance in Malaysia. — Picture by Chris Chew on behalf of Universal Music Malaysia
Jake Bugg plays to a legion of fans at The Bee, Publika last month during his maiden appearance in Malaysia. — Picture by Chris Chew on behalf of Universal Music Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, May 26 — With four albums to his name, including a debut chart-topper and a riskier venture into hip-hop inspired sounds, Jake Bugg knows all too well about the hits and blows the music

The singer-songwriter said he loves mixing with the locals in a new country to learn more about the place. — Picture by Chris Chew on behalf of Universal Music Malaysia
The singer-songwriter said he loves mixing with the locals in a new country to learn more about the place. — Picture by Chris Chew on behalf of Universal Music Malaysia
business can deliver.

His eponymous Jake Bugg record in 2012, for example, made the Nottingham-born songwriter an overnight sensation when it flew to No 1 on the UK charts.

With anthemic tunes like Two Fingers, a swarm of fans assembled to claim Britain had unearthed its modern-day Bob Dylan — working-class kid with impactful lyrics that hit home.

A move away from acoustic to the more electric sophomore Shangri La, and trying his hand at rapping on follow-up On My One, however, had most questioning Bugg’s direction.

Widespread critical acclaim petered out into vague curiosity.

There was a time Bugg was ready to pack it all in. Dispute with his label over what kind of music he should be putting out was well documented.

He soldiered on and put out album number four Hearts That Strain last September, demonstrating a powerful return to form.

It was recorded out in country music haven Nashville, Tennessee, where Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash were famously produced, two icons marked as early Bugg influences.

“I always wanted to go out there and make a record,” he beamed, speaking to Malay Mail on the Asia leg of his solo acoustic tour.

“It was brilliant to go and play with some of the musicians I did. Gene Chrisman and Bobby Wood — the Memphis Boys — who played with Elvis which is amazing.

“It made recording a lot of fun and really easy,” he said.

“After you finished in the studio you’d go to the bars and be surrounded by this great music. The whole experience was fantastic.”

The conversation with Bugg is sharp and refreshingly honest.

It is noteworthy that aged just 24, this is a talent whose songwriting abilities have been scrutinised from every angle.

He is open in saying most setbacks in his line of work is part of “politics within the industry” while “creating music and going out there touring is the best part”.

“There was a DJ from my hometown who told me ‘For every two steps forward, there’s a step back.’”

But what Bugg certainly has proved in the past six years is staying true to his own style, eclectic as it may be, and progress along the way.

“There’s going to be setbacks in terms of what people want and expect from you. The most important thing is do what you want.”

He added: “It’s important to try your hand at as many different musical styles as possible.

“Sometimes it’s going to be bad and sometimes good. But you’re never going to find out unless you try.

“I know there’s been some harsh critics with my previous stuff but it all adds up to me improving as an artist.”

Bugg is, then, in a better position than most to give tips on how to make it as a songwriter if you plan to become a success.

“The dos are keep writing songs. Songs are the key. If you have good songs that relate to the people then that’s what will separate you from the rest.

“The don’ts — don’t try and be like anybody else. Don’t follow anybody else’s path, or it’s gonna be pretty boring.”

There’s a sense songwriting originality plays a significant role here.

“It’s very difficult to put that into brackets. It’s very difficult to have a blank canvas with the amount of great music that exists today,” Bugg digressed.

“But there is a science to making music. What science can’t explain is how 15 chords is no better than a song with three chords. With that notion, it’s important to write whatever comes out of you.

“You do get the pop writers who know how to trigger things in a listener’s brain — whether it’s a lyric or a hook or a certain bar.

“I choose not to learn those. I do it in a more organic way. That’s a preference, really.”

He went onto say the best way to get over writer’s block is to jam with others:

“Even if it’s not very good, you might learn a new chord or it might spark something that gets the motors running.”

But where creativity is concerned, always stick to your guns.

“Only write if you want to or pick up your instrument if you feel like it. If you force it, it’s just going to feel like a task and not something you enjoy.

“It should never feel forced — songwriting should be an amazing experience.”

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